One, two, three…let’s skip the introductions and get straight to our first artist to kick off our exclusive interviews, “On the Charts.” Skipping a few numbers gets us to rapper i11evn, real name Choi Ikje. Born on February 19th, 1987, a lot of people first crossed his music through the track ‘Mic Ceremony,’ the title track of his second solo mixtape ‘The Next Top 5’ and the same track which features Zico of idol group Block B. However, that wasn’t his first break into the hip hop scene as he took part in a mixtape with two other people and released his own solo mixtape prior to ‘The Next Top 5.’ Let’s look back on the numbers we skipped, starting from number one and the first stage of how he stepped foot into the music scene, moving up to the number eleven and how he came about in building this name, and what numbers will come after in his growing career.
Uncharted Sound: Although this may be considered a cliché question to ask in starting off the interview, may we ask how you came about in becoming a rapper? And did you receive any inspirations in becoming a rapper, and could you tell us what kind of inspirations you received if there were any?
I11evn: While serving my military term, I was watching Big Bang’s ‘Last Farewell’ performance in the barracks and I thought that the image of G-Dragon rapping appeared cool so I decided to try freestyle rapping mindlessly and I was amazed by how well I did, leading me to start composing lyrics and rapping since.
US: In some of the lyrics to your mixtape tracks, they mention how you studied abroad briefly. Did your stay in America help to your music today? Normally seeing English lyrics from Korean rappers can tend to be cheesy but reading your lyrics, you seem pretty fluent. You must have studied hard in America.
11: The English I learned did help a little I believe but I didn’t study at all. There was a time where I had 4 F’s in a semester… I don’t think I ever made it past a 3.0 (GPA). In my mixtapes, there are more of lyrics that are in English which are “how I want to English.”
US: You stayed in America briefly before returning to Korea. Did you give up on your studies, or did you quit your studies to pursue music? And normally, Korean parents are very against their children pursuing music. Did your parents disapprove of your career path?
11: I can’t necessarily say that I quit my studies because I never did in the first place. My parents were supportive of what I wanted to do but as of lately, they seem to be disapproving of it. Seeing other people’s children go into corporate jobs, they grow upset in thinking of what I’m doing with my life which makes me upset of course. Normally people tend to clash with their parents in the beginning in disapproving but I was the opposite in gaining their approval at first, clashing with their disapprove later on.
US: You made your debut through the stage name i11evn, but your real name is Choi Ikje. How did you come up with your stage name? And the spelling for your stage name is unique as well. We’re curious on how you came up with this.
11: How I started rapping under the name i11evn began on the day of my last leave before being discharged from the military. I went to a hyung’s house whom I met through Intranet to record, this being my first recording of my entire life in which I was going to post on the Hiphopplaya board. Before I was going to post my recording, my friend asked me what my rapper name was going to be and I think I spent about 6 hours during the night thinking of it. Around 6AM the following morning, I went to go eat California rolls for breakfast and I remember the story of how Yang Hyunseok had spicy radishes with se7en and the name se7en was born because there were seven spicy radishes left. Looking down at my platter of California rolls, there were 11 pieces and I remember that there was an awesome minor character named ‘Eleven’ in a cartoon from that I read in the newspaper from time to time. So in breaking down my stage name, the ‘Ill’ is in reference to the term that’s used in raps, often known as ‘sick.’ And obviously, the Ls in the name were switched to the numbers 11. But now that I actually am performing under the name, there are a lot of cons to it like writing it is difficult and the spelling often being wrong. It also coincides with the term ‘eleven’ a lot, like it being a part of the super chain market and the famous soccer game.
US: If I’m not mistaken, you released your first mixtape “That Boy’s Mixtape” while you were under Big Hit Entertainment?
11: My first mixtape was actually under a three-member unit called Klas.6 in 2009, but my first solo mixtape was when I was no longer a trainee that I made at home.
US: Do you have a favorite track from your first solo mixtape? And which track took a lot of your focus and time? In looking back at your first solo mixtape, what was the most disappointing track?
11: I treasure ‘Penpaper’ the most and it was the song that appealed to a lot of musicians. For the track that took a lot of my attention and time, it was ‘Beginning’ and the reason is because I had to go all the way to Seoul from Busan to receive a featuring. And lastly, the most disappointing track was ‘I Just Wanna.’ There were other tracks that were just sloppy and it was disappointing because it didn’t meet my standards.
US: We realized that Suprema not only featured for your first solo mixtape, but your second one as well. Knowing that your friendship dates back to your trainee days at Big Hit together, how did you end up coming together in working with each other? Also, do you think that you two fit well music-wise?
11: We both quit being trainees together, and we quit a day after one another. Since we used to live in a dorm together, he featured for my tracks since we fit well personality-wise. However music-wise, we don’t really fit well together since I’m very picky.
US: You let your name be known fairly well in the Korean hip hop scene through your second solo mixtape. With the featuring of Block B’s Zico in your title track, did you feel that he did play a vital role in the spotlight you received? And how did he come about in featuring for this track?
11: I’m not close with him and at the time, I joined a label so the label supported the featuring.
US: At the time of the release of your second solo mixtape, you joined Absalute Music whilst being in the crew Grandpics. But soon after around January of 2012, you announced that you had left your label. Could you tell us why?
11: I was a part of Grandpics since2009 to today, and the reason why I left the label was due to different values, musical differences, etc. I just found that I didn’t fit well with the label which was the result to me leaving.
US: After the release of two solo mixtapes and two digital singles, do you have plans on what your next release will be? Also, do you have a favorite track or a track you treasure the most out of your entire discography?
11: I was originally preparing an EP but due to the production time being too long, I trashed that and am preparing for a single which will release sometime in September or October.
US: With the announcement in one of your tweets that you’ll be promoting as a duo with Suprema, how did you come about this decision?
11: We’re thinking about working on an album as the two of us but since I’m indecisive, the album could not release at all. Also, he actually changed his stage name to Supreme Boi.
US: What do you do in your spare time? I heard that you’re currently an English instructor. Do your students know you’re a rapper?
11: They don’t know at all. During my spare time, I just play and eat.
US: There are a lot of rookie rappers challenging the Korean hip hop scene lately. In your definition, how would you define what a ‘rapper’ is? Also, in your criteria of the standards a rapper should have, do you think you fit into this definition?
11: For me, I’m just going to express the music I want to do through rap. I don’t think there’s much meaning to making standards of who is a true emcee and who isn’t. It’s unpleasing to see people say someone needs to meet within the boundaries or call another person out. I’m just going to do things in how I want to and I don’t want to have to hear people say things like, “i11evn this, i11evn that” nor do I want to look a rapper and tell them to do this or that either.
US: It’s already been over a year since the release of your first solo mixtape and you’ve gained a lot of fans since, not just in Korea but overseas as well. Out of the countries overseas, which was the most unique country? And is there a gift that a fan gave you which was the most memorable?
11: I feel the reality of having international fans through the mentions they send me on Twitter, but I haven’t felt it personally. For me, I’m just content if they like my music.
US: Could you give a piece of advice to future rappers?
11: I’m not in the position to give other people advice, so they’ll find their ways.
US: Lastly, a word to your fans and Uncharted Sound.
11: Thank you for requesting an interview with me despite not having much to showcase, and I hope you’ll anticipate the single I’ll be releasing soon. Thank you.